Last updated: 16 February, 2012

Opposition urges Syrians to boycott charter vote

The UN General Assembly on Thursday demanded an immediate halt to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s brutal crackdown on dissent, in a strongly worded resolution adopted by a 137-12 vote.

China, Russia and Iran opposed the text put forward by Egypt and other Arab states, and supported by Western powers, that vigorously condemned “widespread and systematic violations of human rights” in Syria.

Seventeen nations abstained from the vote, which came just days after Russia and China locked diplomatic arms to use their veto power to derail a similar resolution in the UN Security Council.

Egypt’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Osama Abdelkhalek, said the General Assembly had sent an “unambiguous message” to Damascus: “It is high time to listen to the voice of the people.”

But his Syrian counterpart, Bashar Jaafari, denounced the text as unwarranted meddling in his nation’s domestic affairs, at a time when Damascus is battling “armed terrorist groups” while preparing for a referendum in 10 days on a new constitution.

“The Arab Trojan horse has been unmasked today,” he said, alleging that Western powers had deftly exploited the Arab League in order to “internationalize” the situation.

Rights groups say more than 6,000 people have been killed since regime forces launched a crackdown on democracy protests launched in March 2011.

Iran’s ambassador, Mohammad Khazaee, said the resolution would only deepen the Syrian crisis, “with all its ramifications to the region as a whole.”

Russia’s envoy voted against the resolution, saying it failed to incorporate amendments Moscow had proposed. His Chinese counterpart said it represented undue interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state.

The resolution, co-sponsored by 71 countries, is not binding. But it heaps more international pressure on Assad’s regime despite the unwavering diplomatic support it has secured from Moscow and Beijing.

“There are virtually no apologists left among UN states for Syria’s disastrous human rights record,” said Philippe Bolopion, UN director for Human Rights Watch, in a statement.

The text demands Syria “cease all violence and protect its population,” free everyone detained in connection with the unrest, withdraw all troops from urban areas and guarantee freedom of demonstration.

It also insists on “full and unhindered access and movement” for Arab League monitors and international news media “to determine the truth about the situation on the ground.”

In Vienna, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for an end to the violence in Syria, both from the government and the opposition, while urging the international community to find a common response to the unrest.

“What is important at this time is that first the Syrian authorities must stop killing their own people,” said Ban when asked by reporters about Syria’s plans for a constitutional referendum.

“And this violence should stop from all sides whether by national security forces or by opposition forces,” he added, a few hours before the General Assembly convened.